After months of preparation the traffic notices have gone up for the works to replace a section of the main sewer in Truro. Its the start of what could be a long ten months, with the works scheduled to be completed next June.
The working group bringing South West Water together with local businesses and councillors has shortened the overall timetable and built in breaks in the works during late night shopping weeks for Christmas. That’s positive.
Then at the last meeting suddenly the area to be affected by works – for about six weeks next year – was extended by South West Water to include Frances Street and Ferris Town, and we left that meeting with those traffic issues yet to be resolved between Cornwall Council and South West Water. Perhaps it shouldn’t be impossible but it does reduce the level of confidence I have in some of the previous discussions.
There is a South West Water helpline number 0844 346 2020 for people affected by the works and an information point in the shop at 2 Little Castle Street – on the corner with Kenwyn Street.
Figures published today provide a snapshot of the Tory and Liberal Democrat Government’s lack of investment in social housing.
In Cornwall in 2011-12, 346 social homes for rent were completed; in 2012-13, that number fell by two thirds as 112 social homes for rent were completed.
If there was a silver lining in this it might be that more new ‘affordable’ homes are now starting to be built in Cornwall: 169 in 2011-12, which increased to 558 in 2012-13. But these are all euphemistically described ‘affordable’ rental (ie 80 per cent of market rents) or ‘affordable ownership’ properties which remain beyond the reach of many families working for Cornish wages, including most families on the housing register who are in greatest need of a decent home. No new ‘social’ homes to rent began to be built in 2011-13.
Can the ‘new’ Cornwall Council find ways to provide the homes needed by local families? Whatever emerges from ongoing discussions about the local plan, new housing, and bringing empty properties into better social use, the priority should be to meet the local need for additional social housing.
Update: a local newspaper this week confirms renting is on average £961 a year more expensive than paying a mortgage.
Cornwall Council’s leadership today issued a statement setting out the direction of travel of the Independent and Liberal Democrat coalition which now leads the Council.
It is long on vision but short on specific promises. And there are some pragmatic shifts away from the initial post-election priorities set out by the Liberal Democrats.
‘Keep Council Tax fair’ has been replaced by a general commitment for spending to be ‘acceptable’ to the tax payer – leaving unclear whether the commitment to review Council Tax support arrangements after six months remains; this review will be needed.
Rather than a general commitment to ‘protect services’ there is a welcome commitment to protect the vulnerable, and also to ‘deliver’ on community services.
On housing there is a commitment to continue investing in new Council housing – but less specific commitments regarding affordable housing (or indeed housing targets).
Rather than a commitment to create jobs the Council says it will ‘fight for’ jobs. And there is a specific – and welcome – commitment to renewable energy as well as general statements to support the environment.
There is a commitment to devolve some unspecified responsibilities and resources – rather than wider ‘decision making’ – to Town and Parish Councils. And no commitment to seek to devolve responsibilities from central Government to Cornwall.
Its a positive statement, which has been headlined somewhat selectively as prioritising affordable housing and tourism.
I attended a meeting today where South West Water provided an update on planning for the major works in Truro centre.
It is really good news that South West Water are now confident they can phase and complete the works without any disruption during the summer months. The works are now planned to start in September this year and to be completed by June next year. They are also phasing the works around late night shopping in the run up to Christmas and will stop completely for two weeks over Christmas and new year.
It was good to hear that the issues raised at previous meetings had been so fully considered and mostly taken on board. These are major works which are needed, so saying no to them – as some people argued – was never really an option.
No-one is under-estimating the challenges faced by businesses on the streets where works are planned, particularly Victoria Square, Kenwyn Street and Little Castle Street. However, for customers everything is being done to ensure it will be business as usual.
There are of course issues and details which are still being considered, and I’m happy to take up any remaining concerns that people have before and during the works.
I came away confident that the work which is being put into planning means Truro can be open for business as usual and disruption will be kept to a minimum.
If Cornwall Council gets its Local Plan in place, approved developments will be required to pay a contribution to local infrastructure known as the Community Infrastructure Levy.
In Cornwall’s draft local plan it is proposed that the Community Infrastructure Levy will be zoned, and zero rated in some areas – the example below is based on Truro/Kenwyn.
The good news for town and parish councils where CIL applies is that 15 per cent of this funding may be passed on to town and parish councils. In those areas where there is a neighbourhood plan in place, 25 per cent will be passed on.
For rural parishes adjacent to towns, this could make a substantial difference. As an example if – and this is a big if – 3000 new homes secured permission at a time when CIL applied it could mean more that three million pounds for the parish accommodating the development; or – if a neighbourhood plan is also in place – more than five million pounds.
Those tempted to say yes should read the small print carefully. Because, if there is no neighbourhood plan, the 15% due to the town or parish council has an annual cap of £100 per existing dwelling. In Kenwyn, that would mean a maximum of £242,100 as there are 2421 dwellings (2011 census); in Truro, £883,700 as there are 8837 dwellings (2011 census). In relation to the 3000 homes examples above that would be about 1% – not 15% – actually passed on to Kenwyn, or about 4% in Truro (because we have more existing dwellings).
The best that can be said about this approach to funding infrastructure is that, if the development is probably going to happen anyway, in those areas where CIL applies it will be in the interests of town and parish councils to have a neighbourhood plan in place.
On Friday I chaired a round table discussion about jobs in Truro. This meeting was organised in partnership with the community campaign for Jobs for Truro, and formed part of the work of the Economy and Employment working group for the Truro Kenwyn plan.
It was really great that business representatives, advice agencies, and Cornwall Council officers participated in this discussion and shared perspectives.
Truro as a retail centre is weathering the economic downturn. The fact that Truro centre has vigorous independent retailers and local markets, as well as some national chain stores, is one reason why this has been possible despite some high profile companies shutting up shop.
For a bouyant local employment market into the future Truro needs:
- jobs for all skill levels;
- apprenticeships and in work training eg retail academy;
- developers to engage with employment agencies to create plans for local jobs;
- housing people working in Truro can afford – including new social housing and affordable to rent or buy private housing schemes – and live/work units;
- a long-term development strategy by sector including employment land allocations;
- advice and support for employers including small businesses with growth capacity;
- advice and support for those seeking work including community support for those with no IT access or skills.
It was also useful to get employment agencies overview of the range of sectors providing jobs in Truro.
Since 2009 we have lost 2000 jobs in Truro, mainly due to public sector cuts.
I think that the Cornwall Council draft local Plan – which suggests 2000 new jobs by 2030 – is under ambitious as it would only return the number of jobs in Truro to pre-recession levels and our working age population is growing. That comment was made at the consultation stage and perhaps the incoming Cornwall Council leadership – which says it is placing Cornwall’s economy at the forefront – will now take it on board.
The meeting I think is also a good example of how productive local, issue-based discussion with community and business representatives is, as the new Cornwall Council looks to strengthen and review its approach to localism and community networks. It was good to meet Mark O’Brien who attended the meeting as our new community network manager.
The portfolios for Cornwall Council’s new Cabinet convey some refreshing messages.
Devolution has been added to localism – partly for devolution to Cornwall, but if it includes delivering the promise of subsidiarity as one of the outcomes of the community networks review, new arrangements could make all the difference.
Homes and communities brings together housing and public protection. I think it is positive to enable housing – and meeting local housing need – to be looked at partly independently of planning.
It is good to see the Environment and Planning in one portfolio (which also includes Heritage). And for Economy and Culture to recognise the economic importance of Cornwall’s growing green sector, as well as of heritage and museums as part of Cornwall’s tourist economy. Transport and Waste are also now in a single portfolio.
The one newly joint portfolio I have reservations about is Health and Adults. The service needs, changing policy context, and huge budgetary pressures I think would merit two portfolio holders (which was previously the case) and separate advisory committee discussion, as well as two portfolio holders to attend external partnership meetings and events as required or expected.